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Irish Catholicism and Science

From "Godless Colleges" to the Celtic Tiger

by Don O’Leary

Publication Year: 2012

Science and Roman Catholicism have both acted as powerful agents of change in Ireland and elsewhere. But the interaction between Catholicism and science in Ireland has received very little attention from historians to date. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to address this longstanding deficiency in Irish historical literature. There is a strong international dimension to this study. The period of interest is from the Famine to the “Celtic Tiger.”The subject matter encompasses a diverse range of topics. Issues indigenous to Ireland include recurring controversies about university education, the relative paucity of Catholic scientists in nineteenth-century Ireland, the perception of science as a trait of a Protestant and colonial mindset, anti-Catholicism and science, the economic and political conditions in the Irish Free State which worked against the growth of science in Ireland, and the impact of science and technology on Irish Catholicism in recent decades. These subjects are interwoven with topics which extend far beyond Irish interest - such as evolutionary debates, the question of whether or not Catholicism was compatible with science, anti-modernism in the Catholic Church, Vatican pronouncements on science, the theological implications of extra-terrestrial life and of Big Bang cosmology, whether human freewill is real or not, and the importance of science in arguments about the existence of God.

Published by: Cork University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xvi

In the nineteenth century advances in the historical and natural sciences demonstrated that some Biblical narratives were not literally true. Geology, for example, undermined literal interpretations of some verses in the first chapter of Genesis...

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1. Politics, Religion and Science, 1840s–1874

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pp. 1-32

In his seminal essay, ‘Irish Thought in Science’, Gordon L. Herries Davies observed that the top tier of the scientific profession in nineteenth-century Ireland was very much the domain of Protestants, despite their minority status. In a survey...

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2. Faith and Evolution,1860s–1880s

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pp. 33-57

A number of authors wrote about biological evolution years before the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. These included Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829), Robert Chambers and Darwin’s own grandfather...

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3. Catholicism and Science, 1890s–1903

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pp. 58-80

Negative opinions about evolution from a theological perspective would suggest a relationship of conflict between Irish Catholicism and science. However, in this chapter it will be clear that the interaction between scientific...

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4. Commissions of Enquiry, 1901–1907

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pp. 81-99

The setting up of the Royal University had not satisfied Catholic demands for a satisfactory system of university education. On 1 July 1901 the Conservative government of Lord Salisbury (Robert Gascoyne Cecil) established...

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5. Anti-Modernism,1907–1920s

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pp. 100-120

In the late nineteenth century Catholic scholars struggled with a range of exegetical problems arising from the latest findings in archaeology, history and the natural sciences. Modernist initiatives in theology were not unique to the Roman...

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6. Evolution, Entropy and Electro-Magnetics, 1920s–1930s

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pp. 121-152

Nicholas Whyte, in his Science, Colonialism and Ireland (1999), rejected the idea that Irish nationalism was incompatible with science because of science’s essential internationalism. Ascendancy scientists were, after all, ‘not so much...

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7. From De Valera’s Institute to the Big Bang, 1939–1950

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pp. 153-184

In the Irish Free State there was little public appreciation or understanding of the need to allocate resources for scientific education and research consistent with the state’s finances. Generally, the attitude of politicians reflected public...

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8. Between Science and Dogma,1950–mid-1970s

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pp. 185-207

The early years of Pope Pius XII’s pontificate were characterised by innovative and progressive reforms. Pius had a deep interest in science and technology and endeavoured, more than any of his predecessors, to harmonise Catholic faith...

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9. The Elusive Master Narrative, mid-1970s–2006

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pp. 208-227

The soundness of Genesis had far-reaching implications for both Catholic theology and the Bible. The story of creation is not, and was not, limited to scientific and historical interest. Creation theology is inextricably connected...

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10. Science and Social Transformation

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pp. 228-239

In the early 1960s the institutional church in Ireland was authoritarian and highly centralised, and its stern authority over the laity went virtually unchallenged. It was untroubled by anticlericalism, and dissident intellectuals encountered...

Notes and References

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pp. 241-298


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pp. 299-331


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pp. 333-343

E-ISBN-13: 9781909005051
Print-ISBN-13: 9781859184974
Print-ISBN-10: 1859184979

Publication Year: 2012